May 20, 2005
I've avoided the incestuous nature of blogging about blogging until now, but the topic does come up occasionally. Not everyone is a believer in the utility of blogs; I was a skeptic only two years ago, and Michael Brundage went out of his way late last year to point out that his web site is not a blog. What makes a blog worth reading? I think Rory nailed it with his simple list of qualifications:
- you have to want to write
- you have to believe you have something to say
- you have to have an interesting way of saying it
This is excellent advice, and it cuts to the heart of the question-- you should write blog entries because you are compelled to. If writing a blog entry feels like work to you, or if if you're worried about satisfying anyone other than yourself, then you'll have a difficult time maintaining a blog.
Blogs are interesting because they are honest windows into other people's interests and passions. As it turns out, the world is full of fascinating, extremely smart people. The opportunity to learn what motivates, interests and excites them-- professionally or personally-- is invaluable. And often in a purely practical sense. I've found an answer to a Google query in a blog entry more than once.
I will add two riders to Rory's excellent guidelines:
- you have to be a decent (not great, but decent) writer
I'm not the greatest writer, but I know bad writing when I see it. The deck is stacked heavily against you if you can't meet the basic grammar, spelling, and style rules of readable English. You have to be 10/10 in the other areas to overcome truly bad writing. Unfortunately, writing is a hard skill to develop. People literally spend lifetimes becoming better writers. However, the more writing you do-- and the more input you solicit on your writing-- the better you'll get at it. I also find that people who read a lot tend to be better writers. The next best thing to actually writing is reading a lot of good writers. One of my favorite pieces is Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which I re-read every year. It's amazing on so many levels.
- you have to enable blog comments
A blog without comments is not a blog. Period. If there's no two-way communication-- if readers of your blog can't politely point out that you're full of crap-- then whatever you're writing may be great, but it isn't a blog. Without the social dialog of feedback, you're merely publishing-- and publishing is something newspapers have been doing for hundreds of years.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I agree with everything except "you must have comments, period". I've had a blog for several years which doesn't have comments. I do consider it a blog as [I think] do my subscribers and visitors and linkers. People respond to me via email or by posting on their blogs, and we link back and forth. I'm not opposed to comments but I've never felt I had the bandwidth to moderate comments; seems like you have to spend time weeding out spam and flames and stuff like that, and I haven't have it.
You're right-- the social aspect of blogging (eg, the comments, trackbacks, etc) is a huge part of what makes blogs, well, blogs. I always wondered why so-called "blogs" with comments disabled bothered me so much-- why bother at that point?
I'm a very firm believer in the value of immediate feedback; that's a key distinguishing feature between the web and traditional media.
While there are definitely limits of scale-- imagine the comments for a NY Times opinion piece-- I think we're a long way from that level.* If Raymond Chen or Scoble can have comments, so can I.
I'm not opposed to comments but I've never felt I had the bandwidth to moderate comments
The best solution is the CAPTCHA or human verification systems; that elimates 99% of automated spam. You'll still have to do a bit of moderation but it's a really small time commitment beyond simply reading the comments your readers leave. I learn a lot from the comments people leave, and I'm *certain* that I'd never see the majority of the comments if there was any barrier to entry higher than a basic HTML form.
Anyway, this is an area where technology really helps. I'd pursue a blog solution that has a CAPTCHA human verification, and/or a regular expression blacklist. The CAPTCHA is best; I'm stuck with regexps and it's workable but I do spend a few minutes every day removing and blacklisting machine entered URLs.
* See Clay Shirky's "Communities, Audiences, and Scale" -- http://shirky.com/writings/community_scale.html
Hear hear! I think you nailed it. Blogs are not about simply writing a diary online. The distinguishing factor in my opinion is the building of online relationships, via comments, links, etc...
Real discourse occurrs as a result.
Though I do understand the post and it's value, I find it a bit selfish for anyone to state 'only blog if...'
My wife blogs, she just started, she loves it. If i were to now say "and make sure you do this when you blog" I think she would end up stopping.
A blog can be whatever you want it to be. Some use them as a way to keep their families and friends up to date on their life. Some use them as a way to share info, like techie blogs. Some use them as a way to say "hey, look at me".
Again, I certainly understand the point of the post. Though putting guidleines and definitions would be a mistake in my opinion.
A blog can be whatever you want it to be
Of course, but not all blogs are worth reading, either. It depends what your goals are.
Just spotted this - a belated thanks for attempting to counter The Fateful Rule 12 :)
Jeff Atwood writes:
"I'm a very firm believer in the value of immediate feedback"
The key word here is "value". You write a blog about technical subjects and evolving technologies. Obviously new ideas and alternative thoughts about best practice or technological direction adds richness to the discussion and probably does increase its "value" in every sense of the word.
But I write a personal blog about things that happen to me or that I observe. If I write about the radiance of my wife's face in the early morning sunlight, the inherent honesty and worthiness of cow manure (and why that makes it a poor metaphor for dishonesty, despite the use of the term "bulls***"), or the time I saw a whole parking lot of cars bleeding red into the snow, why is it necessary to have a conversation about it?
"you're merely publishing-- and publishing is something newspapers have been doing for hundreds of years."
I think you need to work on this idea some more. Why is publishing "mere"?
Publishing on the web is not the same as publishing in print - it has lots of additional advantages such as the ability to be searched, indexed, linked-to, and cut-and-pasted, not to mention easily accessed by vastly more people worldwide than can easily acess the output of a newspaper. And all without sacrificing any trees.
I've seen it asserted many times that a "blog isn't a blog without comments" but I've never seen anyone take it beyond an assertion. Great novels, great poetry, and great works of nonfiction have been published for centuries without a comments page attached at the end.
A blog that vomits whatever they get from a news site is also not a blog.
I'm still new at blogging and have been researching on successful blogging when I stumbled on these simple, inspiring tips. Thanks for sharing these. I'm encouraged to simply write, write, and write some more. :)
Thanks for sharing these. I'm encouraged to simply write, write, and write some more.
So blogging about blogging = bad, blogging about blogging about blogging = good.
Or in general, "blogging" + " about blogging"*n = "bad" if n%2 else "good"
That's a good rant, but what's the real point? Am I surprised that a pro-geek thinks that novice level advice about operating on the web is boring and pedantic? Not at all. This is another case where the question why might be the most helpful thing to think about.
Q: Why are there meta-blogs?
A: There might be demand for such content. There are enough meta-blogs with active comment threads to acknowledge this.
Q: Why is there a demand for this content?
A: Possibly because technology has allowed novices access to that which was once steeped in voodoo.
A whole new strata of users can set up a blog and start talking about something, even if they don't yet know about stuff like encouraging social interaction or SEO optimization.
These people sometimes chafe against the seasoned veterans - people like myself who remember hiding from the potent summer sun in our parent's basement, browsing a slow and text-only internet via Egghead Mosaic on Compuserve, unable to imagine the day when this will be considered a career. Back then, it really was voodoo, something for the 5% nation of geek radicals. Now? Things have changed. Anybody can pay five bucks a month and spend three minutes setting wordpress. So what's the difference between myself and a newbie? I got in early, that's all.
In the recent past I can remember a deluge of scorn from traditional film SLR users as digital SLR cameras became available to the untrained masses. Going further back, graphic artists who were familiar with using lightboxes and exacto knives directed the hate at photoshop viewers.
While interesting enough to provoke debate, your post ultimately strikes me as history repeating itself.
Also, your captcha is overkill.
You made some good points in this post, thanks.
One of the things that makes a blog IMO is the feedback you can get from the readers when they write comments. Without the sense of community and two-way communication, a blog is essentially a journal.
My favorite blogs are one in which the reader gets a sense that they are reading an on-going conversation and feel compelled to put in their two cents by adding to the discussion.
Anyway, thanks again for the insightful post.